The jailed leader of an armed anti-government group has urged the remaining militants to abandon the Oregon wildlife refuge they have occupied for more than three weeks.
Mike Arnold, a lawyer for Ammon Bundy, read out a statement from the militant leader after he made his first court appearance in Portland on Wednesday.
“Please stand down. Go home and hug your families. This fight is now in the courts,” the statement said.
It is unclear whether the remnant of Bundy’s followers still at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns are ready to heed his advice. The refuge is now surrounded by US government agents.
Meanwhile, details began to emerge about Tuesday’s confrontation on a remote highway that resulted in the arrest of Bundy and other leading figures in the group of occupiers and the death of militant Robert Finicum.
Bundy followers gave conflicting accounts of how Finicum died. One said he charged at FBI agents who then shot him, but a member of the Bundy family said Finicum did nothing to provoke the agents.
Oregon man Raymond Doherty, who says he witnessed the shoot-out, said the shooting happened quickly – over perhaps 12 or 15 seconds. He told KOIN-TV that he was about 100 feet back and could not see who specifically was shooting, but added: “I saw them shooting at each other.”
Authorities refused to release any details about the encounter or even to verify that it was Finicum who was killed.
A federal judge in Portland unsealed a criminal complaint that said the armed group had explosives and night-vision goggles and that they were prepared to fight at the refuge or in the nearby town of Burns.
Someone told authorities about the equipment on January 2, when the group took over the Malheur refuge, according to the document.
Bundy and seven others are charged with felony counts of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats.
The criminal complaint states that the 16 employees at the wildlife refuge “have been prevented from reporting to work because of threats of violence posed by the defendants and others occupying the property”.
Federal officers and Harney County sheriff Dave Ward held a news conference on Wednesday in which they called on the rest of the occupiers to go home. There is a huge law enforcement presence in the region, and the FBI has now set up checkpoints outside the refuge.
FBI agent Greg Bretzing said people could leave through checkpoints “where they will be identified”. He did not say whether any of them faced arrest. He said negotiators were available to talk if they have “questions or concerns”.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy are the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a high-profile 2014 stand-off with the government over grazing rights.
The group, which has included people from as far away as Michigan, calls itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom It came to the frozen high desert of eastern Oregon to condemn what it calls onerous national land restrictions and to object to the prison sentences of two local ranchers convicted of starting fires.